Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Fish in space

Well, the best thing about this story might be the headline, but here’s the scoop: A space pod full of baby fish blasted off last Friday as part of a bundle of life and physical science experiments from the European Space Union. A pair of German developmental biologists will be monitoring how the fish’s otoliths develop in microgravity. What, you don’t know what otoliths are? Okay, I didn’t either: apparently, they are natural accelerometers within the inner ear that help with hearing and balance. Fish otoliths are just like human ones, but bigger--perfect for experiments in the lab or, in this case, in space.

Scientists already tried putting fish in “hypergravity” (i.e., a centrifuge). The fish ended up with mini-otoliths--just what they would need to function if they were to live out their lives in a Gravitron.

The hypothesis is that, in microgravity, the fish will grow bulked-up otoliths. For now, the scientists are observing the fish via a streaming video link. They will rendezvous with their experiment after it crash-lands on September 26.

Eventually, scientists may be able to use the results to develop therapies for human afflictions like vertigo and ringing in the ears.

Fish suffering from these symptoms are encouraged to see their family ichthyologist.

(That's a fish doctor! You get it!)

No comments: